Well this Winter storm in the St. Louis metro did not live up to it’s billing. In the St. Louis metro it was a lot of sleet for sure, 2-4” of sleet with just an inch or two of snow on top. But that’s not historic or crippling. However, when I looked at the amount of "liquid equivalent" that hit St. Louis, it shows us just how bad this could have been. Liquid equivalent is when you melt down all the sleet or all the snow, it's the amount of liquid you have. Because snow has a lot more air in it, it puffs up and piles up a LOT higher than sleet.
For example, we got more liquid in St. Louis than Columbia, MO where they had about 18" of snow. Columbia, MO had 0.82” liquid and in St. Louis we had 0.89” of liquid. This means if we didn't get sleet and had all snow we’re looking at roughly 16-20" of snow in St. Louis. And that's why this storm had the potential to be historic and crippiling. Instead sleet formed because there was a shallow layer of warm air aloft that melted our snow. As the melted snow fell to Earth...it froze into ice pellets, otherwise known as sleet.
We talked about this potential Monday night...that if we got more sleet we’d get less snow….and if we got less sleet we’d get more snow.
In our forecast Monday night we were explaining this because our forecast models were showing 15-20” of snow in St. Louis. I went with 6-12” in St. Louis and 9-16” close by in St. Charles County. I just felt there would at least be some sleet mixing in that would cut down the snowfall totals. But no forecast model indicated ALL sleet until the storm was well underway.
I have to say, I was nervous going 6-12” when the models were showing 15-20”. But it shows how difficult this forecast was, it truly gave us fits…and maybe an ulcer or two.
It was a crippling storm…but not for our core population in the St. Louis metro. 18-20” of snow in areas to the Northwest with blowing snow causing drifts of several feet. Even a 200 mile stretch of I-70 was closed. And when we asked the weather service when the last time they remember a blizzard warning in the St. Louis area, none of them recalled that happening with some of those meteorologists being here since the early 1990s. And then there’s the power outages to the Southeast. At one point the entire town of Salem, Illinois was without power.
When I'm out at school talks and the kiddos ask me what the most difficult type of weather to forecast is, I'll have this storm to back up my answer of Winter Precipitation.